There’s a lot going on in April! This month lines up almost exactly with the month of Ramadan (which you can read about here), it’s National Poetry Month, the month ends with Earth Day, and as I’m going to be exploring today, it’s also Autism Acceptance Month, previously also celebrated as Autism Awareness Month.
Recognized in some form since the early 1970s, Autism Acceptance Month originated from an awareness campaign called National Autistic Children’s Week. In 1984 the Autism Society, one of the larger nonprofits focused on supporting the family members of autistic people, shifted from a focus on Children’s Week to celebrating Autism Awareness Month with a focus on serving families of autistic people of all ages. This became the main framing used for states, cities, and other large organizations like Autism Speaks around the country to encourage an awareness about and increase in support for autistic people, and is often marketed with the color blue and the logo of a puzzle piece. But these large nonprofits have been heavily criticized over the last few decades, for things like portraying autism as a horrible disease in marketing campaigns, using outdated and inaccurate high and low functioning labels for autistic children (read more about this here), only spending tiny percentages of overall profits on grants that go directly to autistic people and their families, and focusing more on the families of autistic people than the autistic community themselves (for more details about criticisms of some autism organizations, check out this article). Even the logo of the puzzle piece has been criticized, as it was originally created to symbolize autistic people as a puzzle that needed solving.
Along similar lines, there has been a shift in recent decades away from calling April Autism Awareness Month, and instead calling it Autism Acceptance Month, which was popularized by an autistic-led nonprofit called the Autism Self Advocacy Network in 2011. This shift in titles is an attempt to stop encouraging awareness of autism spectrum disorder as a medical issue or a disease to be cured, and start thinking about autism as a vital part of a person that should be accepted. It’s meant to be a celebration, encouraging the public to appreciate the autistic people in their lives, just the way they are. At roughly the same time as this change has been gaining popularity, a shift from the puzzle piece logo to the more commonly preferred rainbow infinity symbol has also been ongoing, and seeks to recognize the spectrum of different types of neurodiversity, including all the diverse ways autism can look in different people. This overall change towards true acceptance also calls on autism nonprofits and organizations to recognize the self-advocacy and autonomy of autistic people, including accepting autistic people into positions of power within their own organizations (for more information about the importance of using Autism Acceptance Month over Autism Awareness Month, check out this article).
So how can society, or we as individuals, focus more on accepting the autistic people in our lives and communities? Lots of ways! Accepting and supporting autistic individuals could be as simple as referring to autistic people by the terms they use to describe themselves (for more information about how to refer to autistic people, check out this post). Supporting autistic people could mean providing requested accommodations at work for autistic employees, whether that’s softer lighting at their desk or supplying clearly detailed meeting agendas in advance. It could mean respecting different communication styles, including autistic people who stim or use nonverbal forms of communication. It could mean reading books with positive portrayals of autism to your children. Or, if you volunteer or donate money to causes, acceptance could mean supporting autistic-led, activism-based organizations instead of organizations that don’t employ or include autistic individuals in their decision-making processes.
Perhaps most importantly, creating more acceptance for the autistic community requires people to listen to, believe, and learn from autistic individuals about their own support needs and the ways that they would like to be treated. Some online options for education include checking out websites created by autistic groups that are dedicated to education (like this one), or by searching for people’s experiences with autism on social media under the #actuallyautistic hashtag, which was created to combat misinformation shared about autism by those that are not autistic themselves. Rather learn about the experiences and needs of autistics through books? Consider the slim but growing collection of fiction and nonfiction that positively portrays autistic individuals, like the titles for all ages on this list.
Whether you donate to or seek out information from an autistic-led organization, pick up a book written by an autistic person, or simply change the words you use to describe the autistic community, there’s plenty of things big or small you can do to make a difference and create more support this Autistic Acceptance Month.